The proto-Scruggs picker DeWitt “Snuffy” Jenkins played authentic traditional banjo while innovating the styles that paved the way for the bluegrass banjo sound that came out of the 1940’s.
Snuffy has got a little funk and bounce to his music that will make anybody smile. Like many old banjo players, he learned clawhammer and 2 finger style before developing his three-finger technique. Jenkins was born in North Carolina in 1908, almost a generation before Earl Scruggs and Don Reno who site him as a major influence.
Snuffy’s band the WIS Hillbillies (and later The Hired Hands) were regulars on AM radio and television, performing minstrel style shows with songs and skits from 1937 into the 1950’s.
In 1956 Mike Seeger recorded Snuffy with guitar accompaniment for the Folkways compilation American Banjo: Three-Finger and Scruggs Style,” the first bluegrass LP ever released. The 9 Snuffy tracks on the album are classic songs everyone should know; Cumberland Gap, John Henry, Chicken Reel, Shortening Bread, Lonesome Road Blues, Big Eared Mule, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Careless Love, Sally Anne and Sally Goodin.
His playing of simple songs is imbibed with personality and expertness. An old-fashioned crowd pleasing entertainer, he is one of the handful of banjoist in the 20th century who synthesized, influenced, and shaped a style of American music. Besides that he:
- always plays a banjo with a pick guard on it
- tells jokes that make everyone roar with laughter
- tells jokes that no one notices and says, “well that went over big didn’t it?”
- baggy pants & suspenders
Snuffy’s old TV appearances are unfortunately tough to find. Some live footage of Snuffy from the 80’s that’s out there has very noisy audio. This very short clip looks like it’s maybe from the late 70’s, or early 80’s?